Community Spotlight: Toni Thomas

By Ginny Butsch posted 05-14-2019 10:39


One of the main goals for our Theatre Education Community is to help theatre students and professionals from all over connect and identify with each other in order to build resources and support the theatre education field. We shine a spotlight on a different member every other week by conducting a simple interview.

Our next spotlight is Toni Thomas, an English Teacher and Theatre Director at Ogemaw Heights High School in West Branch, Michigan. Toni recently chartered Thespian Troupe 8775 at Ogemaw Heights this past fall and immediately jumped into the Community to begin offering support and advice to her fellow theatre educators.

Why do you believe theatre is important?

I think theatre is important in so many ways, I love the confidence it builds in students, whether they are just in my class or a full time member of my program. I also think it is a great opportunity for students who have not been successful in sports or other activities to find something they are very passionate about and talented at doing.

What is your greatest challenge?

In our small community, the biggest challenge is that we lack diversity. There are so many shows we'd love to be able to do, but can't because of appropriateness or casting requirements.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I teach Theatre first and second hours, then I have three sections of English and finally my prep. About 90% of the time after school means rehearsal… we do 3 extra-curricular performances per year plus I work with the local youth theatre in the spring and early summer.

What is the resource you most recommend to others in your profession?

Viola Spolin's Improvisation for the Theatre. I base all of my classes and workshops on her material, it’s a great jumping off point for someone just starting out.


Do you have any tips for new theatre teachers?

It’s okay to start small and build a program. Trying to jump into a full scale musical before you know your kids or your community isn't necessary and could lead to disaster.


What is the best advice anyone has ever given to you?

Live where you are living. I tried for many years when I first moved to this school to go anywhere else, so I didn't make a lot of friends or become invested in the community. Once I finally took that advice and stopped trying to find a new school I was able to establish myself as someone interested in growing a successful program and my work has been much more rewarding.

What is your favorite musical (or play)? What makes it so special?

I absolutely love Wicked. I know that sounds cliché for a theatre teacher, but it was the first show that I saw after I had directed a few musicals myself, so I was finally able to appreciate more than just the story. The set, the costumes, the special effects and how it all draws the audience in has such an impact that I had previously taken for granted.


What was the first play you ever saw?

The first show I ever saw was Bye Bye Birdie and I was in elementary school. I went to a small Catholic school in northern Michigan and an older sibling of a classmate was playing Kim. She was fabulous and all I wanted in that moment was to be able to do that when I was older. I was never in the show, but it was the first musical I directed, and I'm working on the Young Performers' Edition this summer with our youth theatre.

What was the first role you ever played?

I started as an understudy in a cheesy comedy as a freshman in high school. My first truly demanding role was Katrine in I Remember Mama. I was a sophomore in high school.


What inspired you to become a teacher?

I always wanted to be a teacher. My grandmother and aunt were both teachers and I guess that was part of it, but I had many amazing teachers in school and that was an inspiration as well. I also knew that, as a teacher, I would be able to run a theatre program myself someday and I have been lucky to be able to do that for the last 16 of my 21 years teaching.

What was the most difficult element of a production you’ve ever had to manage?

We flew our Mary in Mary Poppins last year, and once we had "Fly by Foy" here with us it was a breeze, but leading up to that point, and trying to anticipate how it would all come together, was very stressful.

Name something on your bucket list.

I'd love to have a chance to travel Europe again as an adult, for a lengthy period of time and no worries about costs.


If you could have a different career, what would you choose?

I'd love to be a chef… if the hours were better!

How do you relax after a busy day?

If it’s not too late, I like to cook dinner. Spending time in the kitchen, prepping and cooking, is relaxing for me. I love to listen to some show tunes,enjoy a cold beverage, and unwind while taking care of my family at the same time.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Being a single mom and being able to balance work, home, directing, and maintaining my sanity at the same time.


Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of theatre?

I like to garden in summer. I love to travel when I have time and money. I also go hunting with my family every fall. 


What is your favorite part of the day?

Rehearsal - or bed time!

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

After the winter we had this year, I'd totally relocate somewhere warmer if it were an option!

If you enjoyed Toni’s interview as much as we did, add her as a contact in the Community.

Do you know someone who deserves a moment in the Spotlight? Tell me their name and why at Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.